Nelvana’s new cash-generating sponsorship plans

Toronto-based animation prodco Nelvana has set up a corporate sponsorship division that company representatives say marks a unique approach to financing productions....
November 1, 1999

Toronto-based animation prodco Nelvana has set up a corporate sponsorship division that company representatives say marks a unique approach to financing productions.

Under Nelvana’s model, revenue will be generated by selling air time directly to advertisers and by offering networks entire blocks of programming, with underwriters and sponsors already in place. Jill Newhouse Calcaterra, who joined Nelvana with Irene Weibel to head up the new division as VPs of marketing, anticipates the L.A.-based division will secure US$10 million worth of sponsorship by year’s end. ‘Because of all the production we are doing, it’s a unique way for us to get some funding in a nontraditional manner,’ Newhouse Calcaterra says.

The pair has already launched Nelvana’s first corporate underwriting program for the three-hour Ready To Learn This Weekend block on PBS. Aimed at preschool children and their parents, the block is comprised of six book-based programs: George Shrinks, Timothy Goes To School, Junior Kroll & Company, Elliot Moose, Corduroy Bear and Seven Little Monsters. The shows are due to premiere next fall.

Beyond selling air time, Nelvana will also look to create outreach events and tie-ins with sponsors and networks. Newhouse Calcaterra says the animation house should have a full slate of sponsors signed up for the PBS block by December and will begin implementing sponsorship events to coincide with the fall 2000 season.

At present, Nelvana is focusing only on the U.S. market, with plans to enter the Canadian and international markets looming on the distant horizon. ‘A lot of these advertisers are major global advertisers,’ says Newhouse Calcaterra. ‘Once we get something put together in the [U.S.] markets, it’s more of a turnkey operation for their other markets. [We can] then filter the programs out internationally.’

Newhouse Calcaterra maintains her division’s efforts will not end with the PBS block. She says Nelvana is also looking for ways to enhance sales efforts for the company’s other broadcast partners, such as CBS. Nelvana-produced programs currently fill the CBS Kidshow block on the network’s Saturday morning schedule, which is aimed at kids ages two to 11.

Nelvana is also planning to create partnerships outside the broadcast arena using programs in its library or in development for the corporate sponsorship division. These might include direct-to-video productions that could be used by sponsors in event giveaways, or that could be sold as Web-based animation series. ‘We’re looking at anything,’ says Newhouse Calcaterra. ‘We’re producers of programming, so how can we produce more programming and get it out there?’

New preschool series debuting on the fall 2000 PBS slate include Timothy Goes to School, based on a Rosemary Wells’ book series. The 2-D show will follow the exploits of a shy five-year-old as he tries to make his way in the world. Along the way, Timothy teaches preschoolers about cooperation, loyalty, perseverance and self-confidence.

Another newbie is William Joyce’s George Shrinks, a 3-D series about a three-inch-high hero. All things being relative, the diminutive dynamo faces the unique challenge of taking out giant garbage cans and doing the dishes in a sink he could swim laps in.

Also in the promising package is Junior Kroll & Company, a 2-D series created by Betty and Michael Paraskevas. Junior fancies himself as cool, and confidently sets out to conquer problems facing the average preschooler.

The 13 x 22-minute series carry budgets of about US$300,000 per episode. No co-pro partners have been signed on yet and Nelvana retains worldwide rights.

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